One final design extra on the Sound Step is a little fitted slot in the bottom of the speaker for the included remote control. If you tend to lose your remotes, or rarely use them, this cubbyhole is a nice detail. The remote itself is unspectacular. You get controls for volume, mute, track skip, play/pause, audio enhancement, and source, and an operating range of 10-15 feet. We're happy to have it, but didn't find many occasions to use it. After all, one of the great things about Bluetooth speakers is that the mobile device basically becomes a remote control (one with better range, too).
In addition to a dock that supports the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, the Sound Step offers an FM radio, composite video output, line input, UQ3 audio enhancement, an extra USB port, wireless Bluetooth audio, and the remote control mentioned above. Again, the Sound Step Recharge has these features plus a 6-hour rechargeable battery.
You should take the Sound Step's FM radio capabilities with a grain of salt, though. In order to take advantage of it, you must first download a free app to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch and use the docked device as your tuner interface. Without an iOS device to plug in, there's no radio. If you do have an iOS device in the dock, it raises the question of why you're bothering with terrestrial FM radio when there are so many great music and news programs you can stream to the device. It would be one thing if you were catching a local game over an AM station--but AM isn't an option.
Still, feature for feature, the Sound Step offers a better value than competing wireless or iPad-compatible docks in this price range. For example, an iPad-centric speaker like the Bluetooth speaker like the Jawbone Jambox (with the exception of wireless audio).lacks the FM radio, USB charging port, Bluetooth audio, remote control, and video output. The same can be said when you put the Sound Step up against a portable
Unfortunately, the favorable comparisons fall apart when you give the Sound Step a listen.
The Sound Step's sound quality is disappointing. In a sonic shootout between the Sound Platform, the , and the , the Sound Step was left lying in the dust with its thin, lifeless sound.
In Soundfreaq's defense, most of the speakers we compared the Sound Step against offer only half as many features as the Sound Step (though all are in the same size and price range). But when the word "sound" is in both your company name and product name, it tends to set certain expectations.
Our disappointment was also compounded by our love of last year's Sound Platform, which is still available and priced only a few dollars higher than the Sound Step. You can't dock your iPad in the Sound Platform, but it remains one of our top choices for iPad users due to its Bluetooth audio capability and great sound quality.
Once you get past the gee-whiz factor of all the features included in this speaker dock you'll have to come to terms with the fact that the Sound Step falls flat when it comes to a speaker's most fundamental purpose--making your music sound good. If you're looking for a great speaker for your iPhone or iPod, you should visit CNET's list of the best iPod and iPhone speakers.